Welcome to Reykjavík...
Image 1 of 12
Geysers, volcanoes and snow… Reykjavík, with its colourful houses and surrounding snow-capped mountains, is the fairytale-like gateway to the abundantly beautiful natural wonders of Iceland. The city, which is home to almost two-thirds of Iceland’s population of 325,000, has many worthy attractions so be sure to take in the great street art, shopping, bars and restaurants. And when you’re in Iceland there’s always a chance you’ll see the elusive Northern Lights (for this you’re best advised to go a little beyond the urban centre).
Admire the street art
Image 2 of 12
Reykjavík is known for its many elaborate and colourful public murals, often commissioned by building owners. You’ll easily discover many wonderful works while wandering the downtown streets or connect with Reykjavík Street Art Tours to see all the best works and hear the stories behind them.
Swim the Blue Lagoon
Image 3 of 12
Located about 50 kilometres from Reykjavík’s city centre, the silica-rich, geothermally heated open-air pool at Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s top attractions. If you’re visiting in winter, there’s nothing like going outside in your bathing suit at sub-zero temperatures and looking at snow-covered mountains while you laze around in a giant, hazy blue bath. You must book ahead to reserve your space – go for the premium package and be sure to get your glass of bubbly in the water at the Lagoon Bar.
Climb the tower at Hallgrímskirkja
Image 4 of 12
The 73-metre-high tower of this Lutheran parish church is the most visible landmark in Reykjavík. Climbing to the top will give you a spectacular view of the city.
Go on a helicopter ride
Image 5 of 12
If you’re short on time or simply up for a breathtakingly beautiful aerial experience, the best way to take in the moon-like landscape beyond the city limits is from a helicopter. There are a range of tours from Reykjavík that include landing on a mountain for a Champagne toast or soaring above volcanoes and geothermal fields. Nordurflug Helicopter Tours is an excellent provider.
Dine in a dome
Image 6 of 12
Perlan, a space-like glass dome sitting atop Öskjuhlíð hill, houses a revolving fine-dining restaurant and cocktail bar and is a great place for a special meal with a view. The outdoor viewing deck is free for anyone to visit. The geysers you see aren’t natural – they are man-made and designed to mimic natural ones for visitors who may not make it outside the city.
Check out Harpa
Image 7 of 12
Even if you don’t have time to take in a show at this modern architectural masterpiece, Reykjavík’s Harpa concert and conference centre is worth a visit for the views of the building itself and the backdrop of the mountains and the North Atlantic Ocean.
Go shopping on Laugavegur
Image 8 of 12
This is the main shopping street in Reykjavík and is filled with high-fashion boutiques, cheesy souvenir shops and everything in between.
Enjoy the nightlife
Image 9 of 12
The night-life scene in Reykjavík, or “jammith” as the locals say, is very lively (mostly, of course, on the weekends). The best place to experience it is on and around Laugavegur, where there are more than 50 bars. We’re big fans of starting off the night at Lebowski Bar, which is meticulously themed after the film The Big Lebowski and has a menu of all the White Russians you will ever need to drink. (Image: @lebowskibar on Instagram.)
Try to see the Northern Lights
Image 10 of 12
One of the most popular reasons to visit Iceland is also one of the most elusive. To see Northern Lights (aurora borealis), your best chance is to visit in winter when there are fewer daylight hours and head outside the city. For a unique experience, try Reykjavík Excursions’ Warm Baths & Cool Lights! tour, where you’ll soak in an outdoor geothermal bath while staring at the sky.
Do the Golden Circle
Image 11 of 12
The Golden Circle is the route connecting the major natural attractions within 100 kilometres of Reykjavík, including the UNSECO World Heritage-listed Thingvellir National Park, the Great Geyser and Strokkur Geyser, Gullfoss waterfall and Kerið crater. It’s easy enough to hire a car (you won’t need a four-wheel drive) and do the drive on your own; it should take around four hours on the road, plus the time you spend at each landmark. There are also many organised Golden Circle tours. Pictured is Strokkur Geyser erupting.
Up Next: The Five Best Places to See the Northern Lights
Image 12 of 12
John Mason, astronomer and expedition leader, reveals the best spots to view the Northern Lights.